THEY COME from near, far and in-between. Many are first-timers, but there's still a noticeable amount of repeat customers. Obviously, enough have Division I potential. A few aren't even in high school yet. Some show up on their own. Others travel with coaches and/or parents, most of whom appear to be just as into it from the sidelines as the on-field participants.
It's early Sunday morning at Chodoff Field, which defines the northeast edge of Temple's Broad Street campus. Good luck trying to find a decent parking spot. Chances are you're going to end up alongside something bearing a Berwick bumper sticker. For real.
A record 661 players - representing 11 states and even Canada - from grades 6-to-12 have converged for the first of five 1-day Al Golden Football Camps to be held through the end of this month. The goal this year is to bring in 2,000. In the last 2 years, just over 70 percent of the Owls' recruits have been campers at least once.
The longest drive belonged to a group from Chesapeake, Va. They left home at 4 a.m.
On June 28, a contingent from North Carolina is flying in.
It's an invaluable part of Golden's blueprint, which has taken the program from zero wins in 2005 to five a year ago, the most in nearly 2 decades.
"I was told by the committee that interviewed me [for the job] that we can't have a camp, that they'd never had one," Golden said. "I told them that's wrong."
He understood that Temple couldn't compete with places like Penn State, his alma mater, which offer multiday camps. So he went after a different market, with the sole intention of making it the best. Along the East Coast - within the footprint, as he says - and maybe even the country.
"The first year, we were well received but not well attended," Golden said. "Looking back, I'm probably very grateful that as many came as they did."
Obviously, that's no longer an issue. He's establishing at least some kind of tangible presence, something that Temple for any variety of reasons has found virtually impossible to claim in the recent past.
"Within our 250-mile radius, we want to touch as many people as possible," Golden explained. "It's exposure. To the university, to the Temple brand and the transformation that's going on. You can't put a price tag on that. Seeing is believing.
"Look at all the parents. They don't know anything about Temple. And if they did, it was their father's Temple. It's not that anymore. One thing we get a lot of is, 'Wow, this is not what people think it is.' You hear that all the time. You just have to get them here.
"This is our lifeblood. Now, a lot of kids are looking forward to coming to our camp. They tell other kids. The word spreads. We get a lot of thank yous. If a kid's not having a good experience, didn't appreciate what we were doing, he's not coming back. Simple as that. Or else you dry up and go away."
On this day there's a significant number of walk-ups at registration. Seniors are given numbered jerseys, to make them more identifiable for evaluation. Everyone gets a 40-yard time. Most split into groups for agility drills. Around 9:30 they gather en masse at midfield, where defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio supplies all the necessary introductions and instructions.
In addition to the Temple staff, there are more than 20 other coaches on hand to help. They come from as far as Dayton and Holy Cross. Some campers end up making an impression that leads to an opportunity at the Division I-AA or II level.
The player-to-coach ratio is 10-1.
"Playing at the next level is a byproduct of them coming here," Golden said. "They're focused on the process. They want to get better, improve. If they focus on the process, the byproduct takes care of itself. But even if they're not good enough to play in college, we coach them at a high level, the same way we coach our players. We take pride in that. There's a lot of skill development, a lot of teaching going on. Too many parents focus on the end product. They want that scholarship."
When it's Golden's turn to speak, the message is succinct: "You get out of it what you put into it." He wants them to have fun. At the same time, he reminds them that this is serious stuff. "Lock in, focus in," he repeatedly drills into their minds. "Don't be the one who disrupts the rhythm of the group."
So they go about their work. Enthusiastically. The linemen head over to Geasey Field, several blocks away behind McGonigle Hall. Everyone else stays put. Golden makes sure to interact on an individual basis as often as possible. As he oversees, the assistants take care of each position's station. This goes on for 2 hours. Then it's off to a cafeteria lunch, which allows time for organized or informal campus tours. Then it's back out for another afternoon session. Things usually wind down around 3:30 or 4.
"It serves two purposes," said Ryan McNamee, the camp director. "It's a great recruiting tool. It also gives younger kids an allegiance to Temple. You've had Penn State fans, Eagle fans. But never Temple fans. You've got to find ways to change the perception.
"We're customer-service driven. We get a chance to see the kids, and they can see us. It's significant. It's so hard to build relationships. But if you want to build a program the right way, you've got to make the investments."
The commitment is hardly one-sided.
James Carter is the president of the Boro Endzone Club, a booster organization for Willingboro (N.J.) High's program. Defensive end Kamal Johnson, who played there, is part of Golden's Class of 2009. Carter's son Nicholas is a junior lineman and repeat camper. On June 13 he'll be joined by other Willingboro juniors. On the 28th, some 30 seniors will cross the river on a luxury tour bus. It's not unprecedented. This session, a school/youth program from New York, brought over twice that many, which included numerous last-minute additions.
"It's impressive," Carter said. "You have to look at what they're doing very seriously. We go to different camps, so I meet a lot of people. And we talk. This is probably the best one we go to, and a lot of them say the same thing. And that's the feedback we get from our kids. The things they learn here really pay off . . .
"Now, you see kids walking around town with their Al Golden T-shirt. And they wear it proudly. Parents, too. They want them. I have to make sure my daughter has one. [And] my wife, [and] the vice president of the club. You see Temple shirts popping up in places you never would've seen Temple shirts before. That means something."
If nothing else, it sure beats drying up and going away.
"Our most precious resource is our staff," Golden said. "People have been shocked at the value of our camp, especially for inner-city kids who don't always get that chance to really be seen. This progression has been meteoric.
"We're providing a service. What an eye-opener it is for the kids. Everybody's in their own world. They're in high school, and all of a sudden they're starting. But they don't realize there's 50,000 others who are starting. They think they're pretty good. They get here and see what they need to do, to keep developing and competing. It's not time to relax. It's time to keep moving forward."
For info, call 215-204-0855 or visit www.algolden.net. *